Shannon Kavanaugh | The Politics of Hate and the Power of Story
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The Politics of Hate and the Power of Story

The Politics of Hate and the Power of Story

The wolf you feedYesterday was a scary day not just for me personally, but for our country.

For me, it started like any other, catching up on news and work. What followed was a series of events regarding politics which culminated in me being called a “stupid fucking bitch” with a threat of tying me to my bed to “hate fuck” me from a guy who’d been courting me for two weeks.

As a writer and editor who works on social media, that’s how it all began. Prominent in my feed and trending was a video of a young black woman being brutally harassed at a political rally. Like many, I was horrified that this is still happening in 2016. I know they were wearing trucker hats and carrying iPhones, but these images felt like they were from another time, a dark time, a time I thought our country had progressed away from knowing what we know now.

From there I clicked on an article about authoritarianism. I was seeking information which might educate me on the mentality of hate and how it manifests in our world. I believe that the only way to fight ignorance is with information and stories of compassion. In my research I discovered that the desire and acceptance of authoritarianism is born of a mentality that has led to historical genocide; murders, rapes, mass killings. This mentality is now cropping up in our country at exit polls. This mentality is fear.

From here, I sent a group text to some women who’ve been my friends for the better part of 30 years. I knew that out of six women whom I believed respected me, whom I trusted, that I would probably find one of them who supported Trump. And that one person in my inner circle might help me understand their point of view more clearly. They all knew where I stood because I have not been quiet on social media. I started the text saying that I didn’t want to get into a debate, I just wanted to know if anyone supported Trump. I didn’t hear back for a while and asked if this was a sign that they didn’t want to admit openly that they supported Trump. If that was true, I was interested to understand that as well. But I did hear back. Immediately I was insulted, told I had “awful communication skills” for even asking the question and then I was called a liar.

Hurt and reeling from that exchange I went to my neighbor’s house searching for more information. I haven’t known them long but their daughter spends a considerable amount of time with my daughter and we have been very friendly. The mother is a social worker and her husband is ex-military. They are exceptionally nice and thoughtful people. We sat in their kitchen for over an hour and passionately and respectfully discussed politics. I came to understand how someone can support Trump. I truly heard their passion behind how much they despise the politics of Hillary and why. I listened. I learned a few things. I understood, but still didn’t agree with the idea that Hillary’s ideologies weighted heavier on the evil scale than Trump’s. But at least I understood how they felt they were choosing the lesser of two evils. I understood, but I still could not agree.

I pleaded the case that this wasn’t about politics anymore, but a matter of human rights. I cited examples. I talked about the black girl at the rally, I talked about the KKK and misogyny and xenophobia. I appealed to the notions of freedom and equality; ideals both of them have dedicated their lives to defending. I shared the studies on authoritarianism and fear-based thinking. As respectfully and passionately as I knew how, I appealed to their sense of compassion and logic. And still, I walked away knowing that nothing I said would change their minds.

This was a dark moment for me. The belief system which I have based my understanding of the world was shattering. I had come to believe that most people are good and reasonable, and that “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” My sense of safety in this world is built on the idea that the forces of compassion and love will win over anger and hate in the long run. And suddenly, my sense of safety was gone. I was terrified. Then again, I was also no longer confused how a young black woman in 2016 could be pushed, shoved, kicked and insulted out of a political rally because of the color of her skin.

But my day didn’t end there. Late that night I started texting with a man who’d been courting me for two weeks. A man who’d showered me with compliments and doted on me with homemade meals. I told him about my day and we started discussing politics. Eventually he said that Muslims needed to be kicked out of the country because they’ll never be “americanized”. Then he said that ALL Muslims are oppressive toward women and that as a self-proclaimed feminist I was “delusional” to support them. I told him he was ignorant. That he lacked knowledge about Islam. Then he called me a “stupid fucking bitch” and that he wanted to tie me to my bed and hate fuck me because I’m clearly “insane.”

I lay in my bed shaking. Shaking at what is happening to our world. Shaking that in this ONE, SINGLE DAY my faith in my fellow man had been eroded so deeply that I was afraid to speak my mind anymore. I considered it. Quitting writing. Quitting putting myself out there to be mocked and bullied. I thought perhaps, just maybe, stories didn’t matter anymore. That us writers are just talking to like minds because no one cares to consider those with whom they disagree, everyone too busy defending their own ideologies without the slightest desire to see it from another point of view.

I am not a religious person but I began to pray as a form of meditation. I prayed to whatever force in this world could restore me to a more gentle, loving place. To calm my mind and help heal my hurting heart.

Suddenly, I thought of a Cherokee legend, the story of the two wolves. A grandfather sits to tell his grandson about the great battle inside him — the battle inside all of us — the battle of good and evil. He says they are like two wolves. One wolf is greed, hate, envy, regret, guilt, pride and fear. The other is joy, hope, empathy, generosity, forgiveness, kindness and love. When the grandson asks his grandfather which wolf will win the battle he says quite simply, “the one I feed.”

Right now, we are being spoon fed fear. By the mouthfuls we are being told to hate thy neighbor, build a wall, send anyone who is not “americanized” out of our borders, be afraid, VERY afraid. We are devouring these meals of hate because we do not care to understand the unknown. We are gorging on fear in our social media, in our news cycles, in our TV shows and in our discourse. We are collectively feeding the dark, angry wolf inside all of us… me, included.

I began thinking of all the leaders in history who ran on peace as a platform: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi… Jesus. And then I thought of all the terrible things which happened to these people at the hands of all those who were afraid of losing their power; all the terrible injustices they suffered out of hate. But I also remembered how their stories have changed the world. How they have inspired so much peace by believing in man’s potential to love each other… if we only take the time to see one another.

Yesterday was a difficult day for me personally and I would argue, our country. We have never felt so divisive in recent history. All of us are saddened, scared, afraid, confused of what is happening in this world and everyone’s sense of safety has eroded, not just mine.

But a story is what provided a salve for my fear, a story which saved me from silencing my voice today. The story of the two wolves and the stories of the lives of people who believe in the goodness of man, who believe in peace and understanding, these stories have restored me with the idea that perhaps hope is not lost, and maybe it will triumph in the end… depending on which wolf I choose to feed.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can use to change the world.” ~Nelson Mandela

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” ~Jesus

  • Mariya Burke
    Posted at 14:46h, 03 March Reply

    What a great entry – I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you so much for sharing! I wonder what that guy’s Mom would have to say about what he said to you and the way he threatened you? I guess it’s better to find out 2 weeks in how awful he is than further down the road!

  • Ross
    Posted at 14:46h, 03 March Reply

    This is fantastic, Shannon. Thank you.

  • auntmama
    Posted at 17:49h, 03 March Reply

    I think the most enlightening part of the Trump regime is it has shown us just how much we do not accept, do not tolerate, do not include “the other.”
    Nice response to our times

  • Melissa
    Posted at 19:22h, 03 March Reply

    Thank you for sharing this deeply personal experience with us. I would have felt so lonely and terrified. I am amazed at how you were able to come out of that with still having hope and love.

    You made great connections and this was all well written. I want to share this article with a few of my Trump supporting friends, but I wonder if they will dismiss it immediately.

    On another note, I would consider having the man who threatened you reported to the authorities.

    • Shannon Lell
      Posted at 19:32h, 03 March Reply

      I did feel lonely and terrified, hence the praying. Although I did not feel in immenent danger. While it was offensive and shocking, I think it was only meant to be offensive and shocking.

  • RoiAnn
    Posted at 06:48h, 04 March Reply

    Thank you for this. I needed this. I have gone entirely dark on politics in my Facebook feed – which is SO not me – but it hurts, and it makes me angry, and I feel like I am only speaking to the people who think like I think. I LOVE that you are going out and seeking understanding, that you WANT to know where Trump supporters are coming from. That gives me hope, and reminds me that I need to do the same. Thank you.

  • Stacey
    Posted at 08:01h, 07 March Reply

    Thank you for your writing. My eyes teared while I read, honestly. I, too, have been struggling with this issue, and several others in my personal life, that have caused me to feel quite down and bleak about the state of our country today. I look around feel my heart breaking — my optimism and respect feeling like such naive childish priorities. You captured struggle for me here. I have emotionally avoided exploring the topic much myself, as it becomes too emotionally inciting . You have helped me to sort out why this is. It’s not just about this man, Trump, it’s about what he stands for, how he garners support, and how every word of hate and fear that he spells lays counter to what I feel to be cornerstones of the human experience and of American values. Thank you for your words.

  • Nick Stu
    Posted at 02:32h, 20 September Reply

    When you write, do you even read your own words?

    You complain of hate — yet obviously are filled with it for people who arent like you, ie Trump and his supporters.

    You rail against fearmongering — yet lead the charge against those not like you.

    You complain about not being able to change someones mind with reason and logic — yet your mind is set in stone and your beliefs are unwavering.

    You speak of a young black woman being kicked out of a rally “due to the color of her skin” as if you can ascertain other peoples motivations. Why are you so hateful so as to assume the worst about people?

    Perhaps she was kicked out because she was protesting or just being an all around jerk. Why do you assume it was “race”? So hateful and judgemental. Forcing others to fit into your preconceived box of stereotypes.

    You could use to invest in a mirror — because all that you rail against and despise is brewing inside of you… but you just cant see it. Sad.

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